A federal judge Wednesday gave the builder of the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline immediate possession of five remaining properties in Lancaster County, including a right of way through land owned by a Catholic order of nuns near Columbia.
Judge Jeffrey Schmehl granted the Transcontinental Pipe Line Company’s motion to condemn the rights of way on five properties and gave it immediate possession of the land.
The Tulsa-based company Williams Partners wants to build a 50-foot-wide pipeline right of way through 35 miles of Lancaster County, involving …
A spokesman for Williams Partners, owner of Transco, said that the Adorers of the Blood of Christ would not be required to immediately remove a chapel that the the nuns had allowed to be built in a corn field in the right of way as a symbol of protest.
But the chapel “will eventually have to be relocated prior to pipeline construction,” said spokesman Chris Stockton.
The chapel in West Hempfield Township and the nuns’ opposition to the pipeline on religious grounds has attracted international media coverage.
"Oh my. I am very disappointed," said Sister Bernice Klostermann, when informed of the decision Wednesday evening. "I can't say anything now because I'm just in shock."
Klostermann said as far as she knew a public prayer service to be held at the chapel at 7 p.m. Thursday would go forward.
The order posted on their Facebook page Wednesday night that "we are disappointed that the federal judge today made the decision to condemn the rights of way and grant immediate possession of our (and others') property in Lancaster County to the Transcontinental Pipe Line Co. for the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline project.
"We will be evaluating our next steps."
Dwight Yoder, an attorney for the nuns, said Wednesday evening he had not yet read the order and would not comment. Asked about the possibility of a court appeal, Yoder said, "Usually, there is a right of appeal but the issues are more limited in eminent domain proceedings."
Still pending in U.S. District Court in Reading is the nuns' lawsuit against Transco and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on grounds that the pipeline would violate their civil rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The nuns say they believe land created by God is sacred and that a pipeline carrying global-warming fossil fuels "would harm God's creation."
The other properties that have been condemned are in Conestoga and Manor townships. The landowners had not granted easements for rights of way on those properties.
Those properties are owned by Stephen Hoffman in Manor Township, Hilltop Hollow Partnership in Conestoga Township, Blair and Megan Mohn in Conestoga Township and Lynda Like in Conestoga Township.
Stockton issued this statement on behalf of Williams: "We appreciate the effort of the court to evaluate this issue and reach a timely decision. The orders awarding possession of the five remaining properties means we can begin timely construction of this important energy infrastructure project, pending receipt of the last remaining state and federal clearances expected in the coming weeks.
"We now have possession of the last remaining right of ways needed for the project," the statement continued. "As we move closer to construction, we are committed to continuing the dialogue we’ve established, treating all of our Atlantic Sunrise landowners with respect and courtesy throughout the construction process and once the pipeline becomes operational.
"It is important to stress that landowners still retain ownership of their property and are fairly compensated for the easement. The easement only gives us the limited right to install and operate the pipeline. Use of the land, with certain limitations, can remain the same as before construction."